Monday, November 21, 2005

I Passed. Yup.

I had to read my name on the pass list a couple of times to make sure I wasn't reading the "must take it again" list by mistake. 13 years after graduating from law school, it feels good.

I want to thank all of you wonderful Calbar bloggers who inspired me. Especially Eve -- she is a pretty serious writer, don't you think?

A Day in the Often Overwhelming Life, Sua Sponte, Nuff Said, A Girl Walks Into a Bar Exam, Fruit of the Poisonous Tree, Legal Insanity, I Fought the Law, Tales of a Witty Sex Kitten, Case or Controversy -- you are a wonderful community and I depended on you more than you know.

BTW, the federal Judge I clerked for, William Bryant (1911-2005) passed away a week ago. I went to the funeral Friday at Howard University Law School. He was the first black Chief Judge of a US District Court, among many other firsts. [Excellent obituary at Washingtonpost.com for Tuesday, Nov. 15 if you are interested]. I loved him. He was one of best human beings I have had the privilege to know.

Judge Bryant used to say, "without lawyers, this Constitution of ours is just a piece of paper. Without lawyers, I'd still be counted as 3/5 of a man."

The bar is just a license -- its what you do now that defines what it means. Good luck to you all.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Can You Top This, Bar Studiers?

On Thursday I'm morning I'm up and at it, studying the last of the California-only topics, Civil Procedure, and I notice a nasty purple swollen bump on my elbow. Looks like a spider bite, or maybe a skinned elbow from mountain-biking in the woods that got a little infected. As the morning wore on it started to hurt and look a bit bigger and feel hot. I decided to go to the pharmacy and get some antibiotic ointment and some big. elbow-sized bandages, then come home and soak it. Hopefully the pain will back off so I can concentrate on memorizing the joinder rules et al.

I'm making my own Bar-centric decisions because my daughter Rebecca is at fencing camp and the rest of the family is on Martha's Vineyard. But when I get back from my little errand I am feeling feverish, and the pain from my elbow is becoming sharper -- and its starting to swell up so it looks kindof like a golf ball stuffed under my skin. Sandi comes over to ask me a couple things about work, takes one look at it, and tells me to go to urgent care, which I do, carrying my Conviser and my little cards. (BTW, I ran into our lovely local Bar/ Bri rep in the waiting room, bringing in her teenage daughter, and we chatted about her new legal practice).

Turns out I have a high white-cell count (14.8), a 101 fever, and what looks like an unchecked infection. Maybe from a spider or tick bite, maybe just from a scratch that went wrong. So the Doctor loads me up with local anesthetic in the elbow and starts stabbing at the boil, trying to get it to drain. He is getting more and more frustrated -- he can't seem to get any liquid to come out of it -- so he gets a syringe and starts trying to aspirate it. In spite of all the local anesthetic, it hurt quite alot. He spent nearly 1/2 hour chopping at my arm, until what had been a golf-ball sized area of inflamation looks more like an orange, and the pain is intense. I look over at the littl emetal table and notice it is covered in blood -- my blood. I start to wonder if this Doctor knows what he is doing. i start to wonder if I am going to miss the Bar Exam. So then I start to feel really dizzy and almost black out and I'm definitely not going to be able to drive myself home.

So now the Doctor -- perhaps eyeing my legal notes -- goes into CYA mode and tells me to go straight from his office at Urgent Care to the Emergency Room. What, is he nuts? Its 8:30 p.m. now, and I've only studied for two hours all day! Last time I went to the ER it took 7 hours just to be admitted, and that was with my wife, who is a doctor at that very institution and was lobbying for me. I have the California bar exam in less than two weeks. So I went home, with a shot of antibiotic and some pain killers, though I was too sick to study.

Rigors and cold sweats in the night, and intense pain, but the Vicodin helped. By 4 a.m. or so I felt much better, and I managed to study 71/2 hours on Friday -- almost back to a normal day -- although the intense shooting pain every time my elbow brushed up against anything kindov put me on notice that i was on borrowed time. Picked up my daughter at 6, and Harry Potter at midnight, then went to bed exhausted, barely able to bend my arm at all any more.

Studied like a fiend on Saturday, because I knew once my wife got home Saturday evening there would be hell to pay. Sure enough, she called a couple people for advice and ORDERED me to go to the emergency room. We've been married 17 years, and i know when I'm gonna lose an argument. I tore out all the Contracts MBE questions and answers -- those are easy to do with interruptions -- and headed off around 9:30 p.m.

The ER doctors treated me way more seriously than the last time I had been there. It was almost scary how quickly they whisked me back into a room and started an IV. Orthopedics wanted to rule out infection in my joint, and ordered X-rays. I started to show a rash -- who wouldn't under this much stress -- and that started speculation I had Rocky Mountain Spotted fever. They decided to keep me overnight on IV antibiotics. Meanwhile, my arm was swollen up as if I had a piece of pipe wrapped around my elbow. It hurt like a sonofabitch.

I slept three hours on an ER cot, drank some coffee, and did 67 new multiple choice questions, reviewing the answers for all the ones I got wrong. Not what I'd planned for Contracts, but it will have to be good enough for now. When I got home today i started in on Evidence.

Guess you've got to want it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Circular Saw

In the last five minutes, my next door neighbor set up and began using a big circular saw -- the kind that is built into a metal table, and makes a sound like thredded metal, with a piercing grinding winge finished off with a high-pitched vibratto buzz. he is methodically trimming each of a large pile of plastic pipe. Perhaps he is building a new plumbing system. And I may commit an intentional tort.

The funny thing is , I really like my neighbor normally. He is a stained glass artist, and we even have a window he made in our house. We share a dirveway. We both have identical twin sons. But I had just sat down after an afternoon of errands and work (I own a struggling startup technology company, and now and then I do need to check in and make sure its still there) feeling pretty good, because today was the last day of Bar/BRI.

The last day of BAR/Bri! I had a smoke with Wyatt and Joe, and felt pretty happy to have gotten this far. Plus I studied 11 hours yesterday, not even including Bar/Bri class, which is a personal best for me so far -- at that pace I might actually learn enough to pass. So, this afternoon I checked out a few of my favorite bar exam Blogs --- Legal Insanity, Sua Sponte, A Girl Walks into a Bar -- and then I was ready to start studying. And then out came the circular saw.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Practice Exam

Just got home from the six hour practice exam. The first three hours were "issue-spotter" essays on torts, criminal procedure and real property. About 45 minutes into the torts answer I realised that I had misread the question and answered for "A's" liability on the facts for "B." It made me wish I was taking the actual exam on a laptop computer, where a quick cut-and-paste makes the faux pas disapppear. Instead, I'll have to put in one of those tacky "please insert at page six" notes, matched with an "insert text from page 2-3 here." It looked like crap, but more important, it failed to show the illusory mastery of process - carefully outlining before writing -- that the Bar/Bri teachers stress. Don't show confusion even if you feel it. Don't signal to the exam reader that anything is wrong. Fake competence. They read 20-30 essays a night, spending 3-5 minutes at most on each. Don't wake them up from their stupor. Be sheep.

If I don't pass in July, I'm going to work on my touch-typing skills and take the exam the next time on a Mac. Other than that, I thought the essays went well. Spotting issues is somethinG iwas never any good at in law school, but here I even noticed that the real property problem was set in 1989 instead of the present, so the statutory period for to terminate an easement by prescription could have run (truly, don't ask). No doubt I missed some obvious, basic issues, but I'll wait until Monday to find out, and feel semi-smart until then.

The afternoon "performance exam" was a practical and logistical nightmare. I made the mistake of eating a somewhat heavy Mexican lunch, the exam room was hot, my hand was cramping up and my handwriting starting to become illegible, and then my beloved Razor Point pens kept losing their little felt tips - I threw away five during the couse of six hours. I swear they used to make them stronger when I started using them in the mid 1970s -- now they are designed to break, but I'm addicted to them and can't seem to bond with any other pen...

Through it all I kept trying to remember to keep it simple and do less -- on every practice performance exam I've done to date, I've imagined that the level of analysis expected is much greater than it really is, and gotten bogged down in unimportant details, instead of carefully outlining and structuring a basic, passing answer. The same thing happened again today -- but I caught myself. With an hour to go, I was still on the first question of two (worth 60%). I looked at what I had just written and it was pretty bad. But instead of trying to make it better, i went on to the next question, and was eventuially able to work references to all the documents in the Exam Problem "library" into my sheep-like answer. Ba.

Its almost over. Monday and Tuesday we go over this exam, then Bar/Bri is done. At lunch, Jana and I were speculating why our little Bar/Bri group never really "jelled." We never introduced ourselves, never said where we were going to be working, or passed around a list of e-mails and names -- just the normal American, DeTouquevillean quick superficial bonhomie that transitory people like us have engaged in hundreds, if not thousands of times in our lives -- at summer camp, at trade shows, in the office, with colleagues on assignment, in seminars, everywhere.

Most of us, including me, do not even know the names of the majority of other 15 people who have stuck it out in our room. There is something about bar study that makes even the most basic social niceties seem like too much trouble. You would think we might laugh and joke. After all, our "professors" are not even there; they are on videotape from 3,000 miles and a day or two away, and we could hardly be rude to them. But we sit silently, each in our own way trying to be invisible, like new inmates unfamiliar with the customs of prison. But I really am enjoying it! yesterday I studied for 9 1/2 hours (no, not 9 1/2 Weeks...) on my own, and had the satisfaction of putting everything I will ever know about Torts on 44 large index cards.

Meanwhile, the bombs in London two days ago could easily have killed my most important business partners. Both the key people at the two different Lloyds of London operations we are working with (see my earlier posting on Lloyds) commute to work through the Kings Cross Station. I knew that, because when we were visiting I noticed with admiration how incredibly small geographically the financial district in London is -- it started based on the need for insurance people to meet face to face to arrange ship syndications, then get back to their clerks and ledgers, then meet again. all on foot in the course of a morning. So I worried, and was very relieved when we were finally able to reach both of our friends by e-mail (cell phones had been turned off for several hours by the police, apparently because some bombs in other attacks have been detonated remotely by cellphone). One was 100 yards from the blast. The other 100 feet away, and had just passed through the station when the bomb went off.

I know its selfish of me, but when I heard about the attack I feared that the best prospects to make my little Company successful might have gotten blown up. The Brits by contrast refused to show any self-pity or disorder. The CNN reporters seemed almost disappointed that they could not find anyone to get on camera and express sloppy, American-style emotions. Brits have long known terrorism from the IRA, and know that their civilization must outlast any barbarism. It has already survived the Spanish Armada, bloody Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the Great War, the Blitz, and even the era of pseudo-Stalinist organized labor, when almost every institution in the country lost its sheen of excellence. After Hitler, what's a few pan-Arab nationalists?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Visitors Cheer Me Up

Eve found my blog and left a nice note. Buy the Bar is not very easy to find -- I haven't told anyone at work or in my Bar/Bri class about it -- just my family. Eve has a beautiful web site with all kinds of interesting other work by her -- and a great list of other blogs by people who are also taking the California Bar. Eve is a published poet and writer, and obviously knows what she's doing.

For some reason I have been so stuck in my own head that I never thought to look before at what other people are saying about going through the same Bar study process. This is sadly typical of me -- I start to feel sorry for myself, and totally forget that I am not alone in this -- thousands are going through it, and dozens are telling their stories online. And since I am sort of playing hooky from my day job, its alot less lonely to be part of community of fellow bar takers. Thanks for finding me, Eve!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Starting to Click - Too Late?

I feel like I'm starting to click on this law study thing. Read the topic outline; rewrite it, slowly, in my own words, memorizing as I go; do some practice multiple choice questions; do a practice essay; accept mediocrity; move on to the next topic. I have now plowed through some approximation of the above method with: Consitutional Law, Contracts, Sales (UCC Article 2), Torts, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Real Property, and Evidence. These are all eight of the topics covered on the national six-hour multiple choice exam (the MBE).

I don't yet know more than 1 or two of them well enough to pass, not by any means -- but at least I've been over them once through, and nothing besides the Real Property rules is completely unfamiliar. True, I never took criminal procedure or evidence courses in law school either, but I worked for eighteen months in a federal trial court, so I have a good feel for how those rules play out, even if I have not yet memorized all the details that never come up in practice.

I've been at this three weeks so far. At the end of this week we take a practice MBE (to highlight weak areas, or, if its all weak, maybe just to scare us into ratcheting up the effort bigtime). If I could then go back and dig into the national topics for another three weeks, I know I'd feel pretty good about them. But instead, we must go on immediately to the seven "State only" topics: Civil Procedure, Community Property, Corporations, Professional Responsibility, Remedies, Trusts, and Wills. The only two courses I ever took of this whole group in law school were Civil Procedure and Corporations -- and Corporations was taught by a crazyman who made sure to avoid any black letter law for the entire semester.

Somehow I need to review Civ. Pro. and learn seven new topic areas -- and then go back and master the eight national topics -- all in five weeks. This seems impossible. The problem is not that any part of it is inherently hard, because its not -- its just that there is much too much of it to do adequately in the very limited time available. I seem to have an upper bound of about five hours a day for memorizing new things -- beyond that I can continue working, but I just don't absorb anything more. This is not a new infirmity; it was the same when I was a probationary graduate student, cramming German vocabulary in preparation for the Language Proficiency Exam, or, for that matter, when I was in law school. At the rate I'm going I will be properly prepared to take the Bar Exam by early September -- but it will all be over by July 28th.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

"To A, so long as it is not used as a crematoria, in which case to B."

I certainly hope it is obvious to you by now that the above written Land Transfer above is VOID as to B. Why? It blatantly flaunts the Rule Against Perpetuities, that's why! Haven't you been paying attention AT ALL?

B's future interest -- B's shifting executory interest, to be exact -- will be written out of the document by law, giving A a fee simple absolute instead of a fee subject to condition subsequent.

Ok, let me explain it to you AGAIN. Sigh. It violates the Rule Against Perpetuities because B's interest could vest farther into the future than "a life in being plus 21 years." The "measured life" in being here is A, who could be long dead, dead more than 21 years, when his heirs screw up and start burning bodies. What, make B the "measured life" you say? No, that won't work either, because A's heirs could screw up more than 21 years after B is dead also.

A couple little exceptions you should know about. The transfer is ok if B is the grantor himself. True, B may already be dead more than 21 years when A or his heirs get the urge to turn some corpses to ash, but so long as the grantor was alive when the transfer took place, its fine, thr property will go to B's heirs.

Because -- and honestly, I feel like I have explained this 50 times-- future interests to the grantor NEVER violate the Rule Against Perpetuities, and ALL future interests in defeasible fees, including of course the Possibility of Reverter at work here, are alienable, devisable, and descendible.

And if A and B happen to be charities, then its fine also. The great Common Law may be harsh, but its stewards are not mean.

Erica might disagree. Erica, who sits next to me during the Bar/Bri lectures, and appears to be very smart and together, told me today that when she took Property, during her first year of law school, she cried every day for three weeks. Our Bar/Bri Property lecturer published a book for law students called, "Throw Your Fears Out the Window," and her students put together a sequel named "Throw Yourself Out the Window."

Compared to subjects I studied 17 years ago, like Contracts, my knowledge of Property is pristine -- I've never studied it at all before this Summer. Which may be why I am sitting here conducting his internal monologue with myself, and posting it here, instead of actually working.

I may be losing perspective. You may be too. Let me ask you just one last question, and I want you to think about it carefully: Can You Even Imagine a World Without Hypotheticals?